Archives for March 2014

Bible Study: Easter Day (A)

April 20, 2014

David W. Peters, Seminary of the Southwest

“But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.” (Matthew 28:5-6)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Jeremiah 31:1-6Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24Colossians 3:1-4John 20:1-18

Jeremiah 31:1-6

I often daydream of paradise. Sometimes paradise is a beach, sometimes it’s a cabin on top of a mountain, sometimes it’s an apartment overlooking Central Park in New York. My visions of paradise change constantly. In August, my imaginary paradise is cool. In the dead of winter, my imaginary paradise is balmy.

When the Jews who were exiled in Babylon daydreamed, they only dreamed of Jerusalem. Jerusalem, the City of Zion embodied all their hopes and dreams. It was the center of their emotional life and their worship of God. These verses in Jeremiah are a daydream, a vision, of unity with God, with others, and with Jerusalem. When God restores the people to Jerusalem, there will be a party unlike any other. There will be singing, dancing, music and a grand procession up to the holy city where they will be with God. The people who were as good as dead will be resurrected once and for all.

What is your vision of paradise? Where are you? Who is with you?

If you could plan the perfect party (and money was no object), what would it look like?

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

While I was in the Marine Corps, I participated in many road marches. A road march began around 4 a.m. and by the time the sun was up, we were still marching. Our rucksack grew heavier, and our feet began to blister and bleed. The longer the march, the more painful it became.

Psalm 118 also describes a road march, but the mood is completely different from the road marches I experienced in my youth. The march in Psalm 118 is a triumphant march of victory. A victory always comes after a struggle, never before it. A resurrection always comes after death. The singers of this psalm have looked into the abyss of death and are now entering the gate of the Lord. On Easter morning the stone that the builders rejected became the chief cornerstone. All we can do is sing Alleluia!

Have you ever experienced victory? What did it feel like?

How is Jesus’ resurrection a victory?

Colossians 3:1-4

You’ve probably heard the description, “so heavenly minded, he is of no earthly good.” I certainly hope I’m never described this way! I want to be of some earthly good, even if it’s just in a small way. C.S. Lewis picked this apart when he wrote in his “Mere Christianity”:

“If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. … It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”

If we have been resurrected with Christ (and we were), then we ought to be focused on heaven, our real home. The Easter message of Resurrection is first preached by our lives. We are the ones who have been raised with Christ, and our lives should bear witness to that event.

If you were to set your mind on the “things above” for one hour, how might that effect the way you watch the news or surf the Internet?

What are the “things above”? Have you ever met someone who was so heavenly minded that he or she was of immense earthly good?

John 20:1-18

My favorite detail in John 20 is the folding of the linen wrappings, especially the folding of the cloth that “had been on Jesus’ head.” The face cloth was rolled up in a place by itself. On that glorious morning of resurrection, before Jesus revealed himself to his followers, even before he left the tomb, he rolled up his face cloth. John tells us that his burial party, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, used about a hundred pounds of spices to embalm his body after he was taken down from the cross. When he was fully prepared for burial, they covered Jesus’ face with the face cloth. Perhaps they lingered, to look at his face one last time.

Every time I carefully fold the cloths at the altar, I think of this strange detail. Every time I see the altar guild setting the table before the service, I think of this strange detail. I cannot fully explain this detail of the face cloth any more than I can explain all the mysteries of the Resurrection. All I can do is admire an expertly rolled up cloth, lying in an empty tomb.

Name a feeling you feel on Easter morning. Is there a symbol of Easter that creates this feeling in you?

Why was this detail included in John’s account of the Resurrection? What does this detail mean to you?

Bible Study: Palm Sunday (A)

April 13, 2014

Lesley Mazzotta, General Theological Seminary

“And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:46)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:

Isaiah 50:4-9aPsalm 31:9-16Philippians 2:5-11Matthew 26:14- 27:66

Isaiah 50:4-9a 

Isaiah 50 is the third of four servant songs found in Second Isaiah (Chapters 40-55). In this mysterious text, we meet a nameless prophet, looking for the meaning of suffering in his life. He is persecuted by his enemies: They strike his face, pull his beard, insult him and spit on him; yet despite the dire conditions, he puts complete faith in God.

He praises all that God does for him:

“The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher” (verse 4).

“The Lord GOD has opened my ear” (verse 5).

“The Lord GOD helps me” (verse 7).

“The Lord God who helps me” (verse 9).

God is in the midst of his struggle, which allows our prophet to walk through his pain and transform it, providing “the weary with a word” (verse 4 ) and a listening ear to those in need.

This is the true meaning of our Christian journey. We believe that God is always with us and intimately knows our pain, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, we, too, can transform our pain and serve others with faith and love, just as Jesus did until his final breath.

How do you see God in the midst of your life struggles?

How might our greatest challenge be transformed by God into an opportunity to care for others who are suffering in the world?

Psalm 31:9-16 

This psalm, like our Isaiah passage, is a prayer of one who suffers from rejection in the world, but chooses to fully trust in God. It reminds me of a homeless man I once met in New York City. He had a dirty face, ragged clothes, a bloodied arm and one missing leg. Despite these ailments, he was kneeling at the street corner, holding an open Bible and praying.

I imagine that this man prayed something similar to Psalm 31, crying out for God’s mercy. He was “consumed with sorrow” (verse 9), weak “because of affliction” (verse 10) and “useless as a broken pot” (verse 12). People rushed by him, “forgotten like a dead man, out of mind” (verse 13). I walked by, too, but before I did, I noticed his face. It was lifted toward the sky, glowing with God’s light.

This is the beginning of Holy week, when Jesus cries out to us in the deepest sorrow and pain imaginable. As Christians, we always find the courage to walk with him. How can we do the same for all people, even a forgotten child of God who, like Jesus, still finds the faith to pray?

Have you ever felt your “life is wasted with grief”(verse 10). How did your faith sustain you at this time?

Discuss people who cry out in our society. What do they need? How can we better serve them with God’s loving-kindness?

Philippians 2:5-11 

St. Paul begins this section of his letter to the Philippians with a clear command: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” At a time when the Roman Empire bred a culture concerned with wealth, power and status, Paul is inviting us to turn away from societal influence and focus on Jesus’ humble teachings and ways.

Serve others. Love your enemies. Do not store up treasures on Earth. Do not judge. Give to please God, not to be seen. Turn the other cheek. Do not exalt yourself. Feed the hungry. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Do not let the sun go down on your anger. Clothe the naked. Do not worry about your life. Be merciful. Have complete faith in God.

Paul goes on to remind us that the one who dies on Good Friday is not a false prophet who lost his life in vain. Jesus is the exalted son of God, and “every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (verses 10-11). The way to true wealth, power and status is to empty ourselves of our worldly ways and follow Jesus, forever worthy of honor, obedience and praise.

Discuss the influence of today’s society and how it affects your ability to follow Jesus.

How do you honor, obey and praise Jesus Christ, the Lord?

Matthew 26:14- 27:66

When we read through this lengthy section of Matthew’s gospel, we see many examples of the worst of humanity: betrayal, corruption, denial, fear, anger, distress, jealousy, abuse, cruelty, anguish, neglect, taunting, confusion, temptation, despair. In the midst of it all is Jesus, our suffering yet humble and obedient servant.

Jesus knows what is going to happen. He knows he will be betrayed. He knows he will endure great pain. Yet he does not do what seems natural to us. He does not run, hide or lie to save himself. Even as he begs God to “let this cup pass” by him, he still trusts enough to pray for God’s will and continue to fulfill his purpose on earth.

Astonishingly, in these unbearable circumstances, Jesus’ actions are full of grace and love. He shares a Passover meal with Judas, his betrayer. He teaches the lesson of the sword to his captors. He shows peace when condemned by authorities. He stays silent when taunted on the cross. Jesus goes through everything and anything to show God’s mercy and forgiveness, in the darkest day to the most misguided people. Could we ever do the same?

What do you say to God in your most anguished prayers?

How can Jesus’ actions be an inspiration for us as we walk through the dark days of our lives?

Bible Study: 5 Lent (A)

April 6, 2014

Eileen O’Brien, Virginia Theological Seminary

“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep.” (John 11:33-35)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Ezekiel 37:1-14Psalm 130Romans 8:6-11John 11:1-45

Ezekiel 37:1-14

This is the third of four vision narratives in Ezekiel introduced by the phrase “the hand of the Lord came upon me” (37:1 NRSV). As in our psalm today, location matters. This vision takes place within the context of the exile, and we are offered the image of the prophet led by the spirit into the deepest part of a valley, which is full of desiccated bones. One might imagine walking around a battlefield full of fallen soldiers, as we hear of Ezekiel being led by the spirit to and fro and all around this valley. Is this what exile is like: chaos and hopelessness? Here, even struggle and crying out has ceased. One can imagine the deep silence of the valley.

Into this silence comes a voice that tells Ezekiel not to proclaim something convoluted like his first vision, but to call out to these dry bones to hear the word of the Lord and live. Ezekiel summons the dry bones, representative of the desolation of his people, to life, and they are reformed into living beings. In fact, we have here a new creation that reverses the process of decay and parallels the narrative in Genesis 2 about the creation of Adam.

It should come as no surprise that Christian interpretation of this passage has often associated it with bodily resurrection. However, we might also invite God’s spirit to lead us into the lifeless valleys of our own lives or the lives of our communities, trusting that God is at work recreating and renewing. How might God’s word be calling us to new life as we approach the end of this season of Lent?

Psalm 130

This psalm provides rich content for reflection on this Fifth Sunday in Lent, and its simple structure might serve as a helpful guide for a Bible study or as sermon. Designated as “a song of ascents,” by its superscription, this psalm takes us on an ascending journey. The psalm may be read in four movements, which lead us from the depths to a proclamation of hope and trust in the Lord. One might think of these four movements as stops for reflection along the way on a hike up to the top of a mountain, or indeed, on the pilgrimage from the valley up to the temple mount, the highest point in Jerusalem.

We begin our journey at the base of the mountain, crying out to the Lord from the depths. By beginning in the depths, we have the opportunity to name our own pain and the pain of the world. Note, though, that the psalmist spends little time describing his or her situation and more time invoking the Lord in these first two verses. This invocation in itself is an expression of trust and relationship with the God who hears. What is the cry from the depth of your own heart?

What might be getting in the way of crying out to the God who hears? The second movement of the psalm addresses this question provoked by the first movement. The psalmist is clearly aware that there are things that get in the way of a fullness of relationship with God. Like Paul in Romans 1-3, he is aware that the answer to his question, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord who could stand?” is nobody. We have all fallen short. And yet, the psalmist has confidence that forgiveness continues to hold God’s people in relationship with God.

The third movement involves something bound to make us uncomfortable: waiting. The image of “those who watch for the morning,” repeated by the psalmist, suggests the restless character of this waiting. But all of the language about restless waiting in verses 5-6 make the hope in verse 5b stand out all the more. God has already spoken, and “in his word” the psalmist hopes. As Christians, we believe that God has already spoken decisively in Christ, and part of our call is to wait in hope for God’s kingdom when all will be reconciled to God. Perhaps today, we should ask: What is the quality of our waiting? Are we restless for the coming kingdom? Or have we placed our hope in something other than God’s promise in Christ?

The final movement of the psalm reaches out of the psalmist self and proclaims to all of Israel the “steadfast love” of the Lord and God’s “great power to redeem.” There is something ecstatic about this proclamation; this is the cry from the heights. How difficult it is to get to the place from which we can openly proclaim God’s steadfast love and hope to all people!

How often are you able to make it to the part of the spiritual journey that calls you out from yourself to share God’s love and your hope in God’s word with others?

Romans 8:6-11

“But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you” (8:9).

Here, Paul proclaims good news to us and to the congregation at Rome. Those who have been joined to Christ are a new creation. Even though we live embodied lives, we are even now “in the Spirit,” and, therefore, free to love and serve God. But Paul also acknowledges that there is still a battle going on. He formulates it as an opposition between flesh and spirit and calls upon his listeners to choose the side of life – to set their minds upon the Spirit.

What does Paul’s call to set our minds upon the Spirit mean for us during this season of Lent? Have we taken time to really engage in the struggle to reshape our lives so that they might be more reflective of Christ’s self-giving love? How is your Lenten practice leading to fuller life for you and for others?

John 11:1-45

John’s dramatic “sign” story of Lazarus speaks volumes about the one who brings about the sign and the responses of those who witness these events. Within John’s narrative, this text occurs at a turning point. It is the last of seven narrated “signs” within John’s gospel, and it marks a shift from the narration of Jesus’ public ministry to the John’s lengthy Passion narrative with its long discourses. Thus, it is particularly appropriate that we hear it today, on the Fifth Sunday in Lent, as we prepare to enter into the events of the Passion of Our Lord.

So, what does this story say about the one who performs the sign? While it is easy to read John’s gospel and get a sense of a Jesus who seems to be in complete control, walking about five feet above the ground, and talking on a wholly different level than many of his interlocutors (Nicodemus, for example), this narrative offers a picture of Jesus in which his humanity is fully on display in his grief over his friend. In the midst of the grief, Jesus’ conversations with Martha and Mary reveal his identity more fully. In the midst of his vulnerability and grief, Jesus is revealed as the one who can say, “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25). Similarly, it will be in the midst of human vulnerability and death on the cross, that Jesus’ glory will be revealed. This is classic John: Divine glory is revealed most fully in the fullness and perfection of Christ’s humanity and the vulnerability of the outpouring of self-sacrificial love.

What does this story say to you about the identity of Christ?

The bystanders invite us to “see how he loved him” (11:36). In this narrative, we have a remarkable picture of Jesus’ loving relationship with the family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus at Bethany. We see a sign of God’s desire that all humanity might be unbound from the shroud of death and have an abundance of life. We also get a glimpse of a love that will be fully revealed on the cross. In the Passion of Our Lord, we will be invited to see how he loves us (cf. John 3:16).

How is Christ’s love shown throughout this passage? As a bystander in this scene, how will you respond to this sign?

Bible Study: 4 Lent (A)

March 30, 2014

Dale T. Grandfield, General Theological Seminary

“Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’” (John 9:39)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

1 Samuel 16:1-13

Le roi est mort. Vive le roi!” The king is dead. Long live the king!

Wait. The king isn’t dead. What just happened? Does anyone hear shouts of coup d’etat?

Luckily it all happened far outside the capitol in Bethlehem. Nevertheless, the prophet Samuel committed capital treason. He anointed a new king for Israel while the old king was still alive. It would not be outside the norm for the reigning monarch to have him executed. No wonder Samuel talked back to God when heard the commission: “If he finds out, Saul is going to kill me.”

This little narrative recounts one of the most important events in scripture. Seriously. This moment when God chose, and Samuel anointed, set in motion the Davidic monarchy in Israel. That may not mean a lot at first glance, but here are a few important points.

First, to be valid, the King of Israel had to be chosen by God and anointed by one of God’s prophets.

Second, if God was unhappy with the King, God could choose another without notice and without respect to heirs or dynasties.

Third, let’s not forget that it is David’s line which, through the prophet Nathan, God promises to uphold forever.

And finally, remember your Jesse Tree in Advent? The Israelites longed to see the reestablishment of that Davidic monarchy during hundreds of years in exile, and from that expectancy came the promos of the Messiah – the great, culminating King of reunited Israel. As the prophets foretold that ultimate king, the gospels respond, telling us that Jesus of Nazareth was born to be that guy: the Messiah.

With such a quiet, backwoods, subversive plot-twist like Samuel anointing David, is it surprising, then, that God does not see as mortals see, and God does not choose as mortals choose?

That should be of comfort to us on the most basic level, because we know, then, that God isn’t looking at us in the way we look at ourselves. At the same time, it should stir us up to see how unorthodox God’s work is in God’s creation. It’s as if God is saying to us through a conversation with Samuel thousands of years ago: “Get ready, I don’t do things the way you expect.”

From a political perspective, what do you make of Samuel going behind King Saul’s back to anoint David king? Do you find anything untoward or even unfortunate about that?

Have you ever discerned anything? How is it possible to listen closely enough for the movement of the Spirit so as to look beyond how mortals see and choose and get at what God really wants?

Psalm 23

The 23rd Psalm may be, along with the traditional Lord’s Prayer, the most ecumenical, even interfaith, prayer. Everyone knows a little of “The Lord is my shepherd.” Go to a hospital or funeral where people of many different backgrounds gather, and more often than not, they can recite at least part of this psalm.

Perhaps that’s because this is a psalm of deepest trust in and satisfaction with God’s guardianship. There’s that word “Lord,” which in Hebrew is actually God’s ineffable proper name, “YHWH.” YHWH is my shepherd … I will dwell in the house of YHWH forever.”  It’s like talking about and to a beloved caretaker.

Yet this shepherd metaphor for God also portrays a gradual maturation of our faith, as God not only sees to our needs and wards off danger, but also teaches and motivates us.

Look at how the language changes. The first three verses are in the third person where God is “he.” But after the Valley of the Shadow of Death, the language takes a turn to the intimate and relational “thou.” In the first verses, God makes, leads, revives, guides. Then it switches, and the first person becomes the agent. “I walk.” “I fear.” “I dwell.”

And let’s not forget the assumed actions in relationship to God’s in verse 5: I sit and eat, and I am coronated. Thus God becomes the servant-priest and the prophet. What a sweet friendship we find here with God!

Finally, let’s focus for a moment on one little word, a verb in verse 6: yirdd’funi. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer Psalter, following the Coverdale translation of previous prayer books, translates: “Shall follow me.” But the verb has the connotation of pursuing or chasing after. So the literal translation from Hebrew is: “No doubt good and kindness will chase after me.” Thus, even when we all gown up and have become too busy to notice, God’s goodness and kindness is chasing, pursuing, and searching for us. That is a powerful image that recalls Jesus the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep in order to search for the one that is lost. Even when we are not lost, even when we are simply unaware, God delights in us and gives God’s self to our care and betterment.

Have you ever found Psalm 23 to be a point of ecumenical or interfaith dialogue?

Are you most drawn to God in the third person (he) or in the second (thou)? Have you ever thought of God as your master? As your servant? Do you perceive God to be more kind, or more demanding?

As you examine your life and the lives of those around you, who have you seen God’s goodness and kindness chasing after you?

Ephesians 5:8-14

Going far back into pre-history, humans have been quite vulnerable to predation at night, partially because we are diurnal animals (that is, we sleep during the night and are active during the day) and partially because we lack sensory acumen and have hairless bodies, heavy heads and a slow two-legged gait. “Lions and tigers and bears! O, my!”

Imagine if we were in the woods with voracious wolves. In and of our own bodies, we would have precious little to ward off the beasts. That sounds like a nightmare! Yet, even if it’s tough for us in the 21st century, with portable electric light to illumine our darkest places and stark delineation between civilization and “the wild,” somewhere deep inside of us, mythically, day is good and night is bad.

And what characterizes the day? Light. What characterizes the night? Darkness. If we were owls, for example, we might feel completely differently. But we are not; and Christianity, from early times, used the imagery of light versus dark as a metaphor for the Christian life in the world.

That is precisely what this imagery is: metaphor. Christians aren’t really brighter than other people. While metaphor can certainly be useful and artistic, it can also, when taken too literally, make for many problems in interpretation. Then take a metaphor like “light in the dark” that plays on deep-seated evolutionary patterns, and the game is set for complete misunderstanding. Too easily this little passage in Ephesians could be taken as an us-vs.-them type of statement, or the promotion of some sort of dualism of good vs. evil. That is not what the writer of Ephesians is talking about.

Darkness is not over and against light. On the contrary, it is merely the absence of light. When light shines, darkness disappears because the light fills the void that was darkness. That is why it is important for the Ephesians to recognize in themselves the light of the Lord, to live as people filled with that light, and to expose all things to it. Once the light shines, it has an amazing way of reclaiming what was secret and dark. As it says, “Everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light.”

When are other times recently when you have encountered light vs. dark imagery in the church and church year?

Based on what you know about the City of Ephesus and the ancient world, what do you think the “darkness” might have been? What type of shameful, secret acts were the people committing?

How have you been a shining light for the world recently?

John 9:1-41

Which is worse, to be blind, physically, or to have a blind heart and inattentive ears? In the wake of today’s gospel lesson, it might seem like an easy answer. Of course we’d want to be open and receptive to God in Jesus Christ. But if this same question were posed within a different, less obviously spiritual arena, I imagine our choice might be less cut and dried.

As brilliant as she was, few of us would want to be disabled as Helen Keller was, even if it meant being as intelligent. Think of Ludwig von Beethoven. How many of us would be willing to gradually lose our hearing in order to get at the deeper meanings of human frailty and limitation in our art?

Couldn’t we have a great impact without too much sacrifice? Certainly! But don’t be surprised when God does things quite unpredictably.

Yet, even when we recognize God’s subversive way, disability is a very difficult topic for us. So much of our lives are about what we can do. To say “I can’t” is a concession. To make too many concessions is weakness.

The church is not outside of that notion. We like our clergy and leaders, for example, to be paragons of capability: intelligent, high functioning, morally upstanding, well spoken, caring, and it doesn’t hurt if they’re good looking and well dressed!

The disciple in today’s gospel reading experiences a revelation of who Jesus is. This epiphany is facilitated by apt and clear theological argumentation on the part of this nameless disciple who was blind yet sees. Nevertheless, what may be even more important here is the means by which Jesus makes himself known.

In Jesus’ time, it was thought that the congenitally blind and otherwise disabled were disabled because they were born entirely in sin. That seems not so much a value judgment as a simple way of writing people off. In congregational life in the first century, being “congenitally sinful” meant spiritual as well as physical impoverishment.

That’s where God works. In a twist of plot, the story of the disciple who was born blind and healed shows us not only that Jesus is from God, but that God in Jesus does not necessarily choose the obvious people to demonstrate the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. Quite to the contrary, sometimes it’s in the unlikely that God demonstrates exceptional holiness. That’s often how God can speak to those who have been blinded by ability and the way things have always been done, shedding new light on the world.

Have you ever thought about the holiness and importance of human diversity in gifts, abilities and disabilities in and among our people, including our leadership?

What does it mean to you that (1) we are still striving to understand God’s full self-revelation in Jesus Christ, and (2) that Christ’s call to us is to cast no one out?

Have you ever felt disabled by an overwhelming sense of sinfulness? Impending judgment? If so, how did Christ’s healing hands break through your pain?

How have you felt disabled, weak or a failure in your life?  If so, how has that been a means of God’s revelation? How can your own sense of limitation lend perspective and open you to radical compassion?

Bible Study: 3 Lent (A)

March 23, 2014

Steven KingVirginia Theological Seminary

“Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.’” (John 4:13-14)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
Exodus 17:1-7Psalm 95Romans 5:1-11John 4:5-42

Exodus 17:1-7

As I spend time with this portion of Exodus, I am struck by the Israelites last question: “Is the Lord among us or not?”

They have traveled long distances, led by a man claiming to be chosen by God to guide them, and now they are without water. They are becoming frustrated and angry and are turning their emotions toward God. Their question is a very human response and one that may be familiar to us, too. And yet, as faithful people, we know that the Lord is among us and it is our call to learn to tune our hearts to hear God’s voice in our lives.

Lent is a time to remove the distractions that make it difficult to hear and discern God’s movement in our lives. God is always present. Let us strive to come into God’s presence more fully.

Has there been a time in your life when you have wondered, “Is the Lord among us or not?” What was that time like? How did you come to trust in the Lord’s presence again?

Consider what distracts your or prevents you from hearing the Lord’s call in your life. How might you work through that?

Psalm 95

Verse 2 from Psalm 95 continues the call from Exodus to “come before his presence with thanksgiving” by describing all that the Lord has created. God made the caverns of the earth, the heights of the hills, the sea and the dry land, and in this we see the presence of the Lord. We know that the Lord is among us is because we see God’s creation all around us each day. We are called to take the time to slow ourselves down and notice all that is around us and, in this way, to come into the Lord’s presence. Lent is a time to slow down the busyness of life, to once again take notice of God’s creation all around us, and to be thankful.

Where do you see or feel the presence of God in the world around you?

What causes you to lose sight, even temporarily, of the presence of God in your life? What adds extra stress and busyness and how might you hear God in that time? Consider taking an extra 15 minutes of silence each day to be with God.

Romans 5:1-11

Throughout this passage from the letter of Paul to the Romans, Paul calls for the readers and hearers of his message to boast: “in our hope of sharing the glory of God,” “in our sufferings,” and “more than that … in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The lines about suffering producing endurance and so on are one of my favorite pieces of scripture, and yet, as I read the passage this time, the call to “boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God” stuck out to me. Paul is calling his readers, and us, to be joyful and proud as we claim all that Christ as done for us and as we tell others about that. Because of Christ, we are justified and given peace and we will be saved. This is Good News. This is a message that the world needs to hear. Let us boast in it, joyfully and faithfully!

Consider all of the different possibilities for ways that you may “boast” in this Good News. How and with whom might you share this message with those in your community?

Throughout your faith journey, what are some ways that you have experienced God’s movement in your life? How might you share those with others to help them see how God is moving in their lives?

John 4:5-42

I have always loved this woman’s reaction to her encounter with Christ! Even after he not only breaks societal customs and speaks to her but also talks with her about her divorces, he still reveals himself as the Messiah. She is not afraid or ashamed, but instead runs to the nearest city and shouts, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!”

I love this reaction!

I find myself wondering if I could do that or whether or not I would be ashamed in front of Jesus of the mistakes I have made in my life. And yet, this woman gives us a faithful example of someone who has experienced the love of Christ that is not conditional upon any circumstances of her or our lives and goes to invite others to be a part of it.

This woman gives us a deeply faithful model for what we, too, can do when we encounter Christ even today. We are called not to get stuck in our sins or mistakes but instead to come to trust that even with all that may have happened, Christ still loves us and is present with us. After we have experienced this presence, let us follow this woman’s example to tell others about such a love as Christ’s!

Are there times in your life that you would rather others, including even God, didn’t know about? How have you experienced Christ’s love for you even in these times?

Is there someone you know who needs to hear this message of unconditional love? How might you share it with them?